By Jeff Forward
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FREMONT, Nebraska (Fremont Tribune) — A 21-year-old Fremont man accused of stabbing a 4-month-old infant to death in 2021 will learn his fate within the next several months.
Alexander Hernandez, 21, of Fremont, was present for an evidentiary hearing in District 6 Court in Fremont on Friday, Feb. 17, during which five witnesses testified about the night of Jan. 8, 2021, when the defendant was alleged to have stabbed his own cousin more than 20 times, resulting in her death.
The young child, whom the Fremont Tribune is not identifying by name, was being cared for by Hernandez’s two parents while the infant’s own parents sought treatment for substance abuse issues. The baby girl was stabbed more than 20 times in the chest and torso as she slept, and died by 10 p.m. Jan. 8, 2021, after being transported to a medical facility.
After a quick investigation by Fremont Police Department detectives, Hernandez was arrested and charged with suspicion of first-degree murder, a class 1A felony, which does not result in a death sentence that a class 1 felony would; a child abuse charge, a class 1A felony, which would result in a sentence of 20 years to life, and his weapon charge, a class 2 felony, would result in a sentence of one to 50 years.
However, Hernandez could see no prison time because he is using a defense of guilt by reason of insanity, a claim which Friday’s hearing was focused on.
Over more than five hours of courtroom testimony on Friday, five witnesses – including both Hernandez’s parents – testified to District Court Judge Geoffrey Hall about the night of the infant’s death, the six months preceding the incident as well as a mental-health evaluation into Hernandez’s state of mind at the time of the incident.
What emerged from the testimony was a story of a young man who quit his job in April 2020 fearing he would contract the COVID-19 virus before slowly descending into poorer and worsening mental health conditions over six months before the fatal attack occurred.
According to his mother and father, Hernandez had lost all his friends by July 2020, and was secluding himself inside his bedroom, often not leaving his home for days at a time. He also exhibited other symptoms of a mental health crisis, his parents testified, including insomnia, poor eating habits, long periods without talking, fear of unknown people, routinely clutching his head, rampant headaches and times when he paced around his home with seemingly no purpose.
Hernandez is undergoing a bench trial, which means there is no jury present to hear testimony or determine innocence or guilt. He has been incarcerated at the Saunders County Jail in Wahoo since his arrest in 2021.
He will next appear in court at 2 p.m., April 13, to learn the outcome of Friday’s hearing.
His fate will be determined by Hall, who will now decide on whether or not Hernandez was insane at the time of the crime based on the evidence presented in court on Friday.
If Hernandez is deemed insane, he cannot be found guilty of the allegations and instead would undergo psychological assessments to determine whether he is a danger to himself or society. He could be sentenced to a state mental health facility for care.
Whether or not Hernandez did stab the 4-month-old girl to death did not seem to be contested, as both the state Attorney General’s Office prosecuting attorney—Corey O’Brien—as well as Hernandez’s defense attorney—Omaha-based lawyer Nedu Igbokwe—admitted in comments to the court that Alexander Hernandez was responsible for the girl’s death.
“There is not much of a contest that Mr. Hernandez is the perpetrator of the crime,” O’Brien said in his opening statement. “Nor is there much of a contest that he met the definition of insanity.”
In his closing statements, Igbokwe told the court and Hall that a crime occurred, and, “That crime was committed by Mr. Hernandez.”
“At the time of the offense, Alexander Hernandez was legally insane and is not guilty by reason of insanity,” Igbokwe said. “We believe Dr. (Klaus) Hartmann found Alex was legally insane at the time of the crime, as did a second psychiatrist. We do also believe that by Nebraska statute that we intend to present the defense of insanity.”
Igbokwe’s and O’Brien’s comments about the mental state of Alexander Hernandez were confirmed during the day’s testimony by state-licensed psychiatrist, Dr. Klaus Hartmann, who has done insanity evaluations of criminal suspects for more than a dozen years for the state of Nebraska.
Hartmann told the court and judge that in his professional opinion – after months of analysis of Hernandez’s medical records, police reports and in-person interviews – that, yes, he diagnosed Alexander Hernandez as being insane at the time of the crime.
“I formed an opinion: I do believe he qualified for the insanity defense. He was insane,” Hartmann said.
When questioned by O’Brien about whether he asked Hernandez if he had killed the infant, and why he would have done so, Hartmann continued his explanations of his diagnosis.
Hartmann stated Hernandez suffered from a schizo-psychotic disorder, which led to delusions and “command hallucinations” in which he believed drug cartel figures would harm him or his family.
“(Alexander) felt his family would be killed if he did not commit this act,” Hartmann said of the reason Hernandez gave him for stabbing the infant. “He told me that he loved (the infant girl) like she was his own, so this (killing) was totally unexpected and uncharacteristic.”
Hartmann, and later testimony from Alexander’s mother, revealed that the 21-year-old suspect had been hearing voices in his head for months, something he kept secret because he believed if he revealed that to others, he may be harmed or tortured.
“These were ‘command hallucinations. He did not have those before (the killing). It was just on that particular day. He was in double jeopardy. He had both delusions and hallucinations,” Hartmann explained. “And that makes it much more difficult to resist ‘command hallucination.’ It is unreasonable to stab a small infant 20 times in order to kill a small child. He had no history of fighting or violence that I could obtain. (This) was totally out of character for him.”
During the court proceedings, Hernandez sat silently, clad in a dark purple dress shirt and very loose fitting black trousers.
At times he seemed to find humor in the proceedings, turning to look at his parents and others in the audience while smiling and laughing. He drank a Dr. Pepper soda pop for much of the hearing while at times staring intently at the prosecuting attorney team of three lawyers.
The first witness to testify was Hernandez’s father, Juan Hernandez. Claiming he was unable to speak English fluently enough to understand questions, Juan Hernandez used an interpreter for his entire testimony.
On three occasions, he was chastised by the judge after he seemingly understood a question from the prosecution and began to answer before the translator had translated the question in to Spanish. Later, during the playing of a police body camera video from the night of the incident, Juan was seen complying with police commands and speaking in English.
Juan Hernandez said the 4-month-old baby arrived in their household sometime in October or November 2020 at the request of his in-laws. He said his son Alexander was happy to have the baby in the home, and never complained about the infant nor exhibited anger toward the child.
During his testimony, Juan Hernandez admitted his son, Alexander, was experiencing mental health issues and had sought assorted treatments for his worsening condition from July 2020 through when the infant was killed on Jan. 8, 2021.
“Yes, he was having troubles. He could not sleep, his head hurt. But my wife could talk about that more,” Juan said of his son. “(Alexander) didn’t want to go out. If anyone would get close to him, he would get upset. Something in his mind wasn’t right. He had been like that many months (before the killing)…I suppose six months.”
The night of the infant’s death, Juan Hernandez said he was watching soccer on television while his wife was on the telephone talking to friends. It was between 8:40 p.m. and 9 p.m. when the stabbing occurred.
“I was watching TV and all of the sudden, I heard the baby was coughing,” Juan recalled. “I just went to the bedroom because I thought she had woken up. She was in her crib. I turned on the light and saw her hand was on her heart like a fist. I thought, ‘what is going on?’ So I moved her hand and I saw the baby had blood.”
Juan Hernandez said he immediately grabbed the infant, ran to the kitchen where he gave the child to his wife, who then called 9-1-1 for help. At that moment, Juan said he saw Alexander staring blankly nearby and engaged in a brief struggle with his son, who was holding a bloody knife.
Gisella Hernandez, Alexander’s mother, also testified at length on Friday. She detailed months of harrowing mental health issues exhibited by Alexander beginning in roughly July of 2020. Gisella said she tried to get her son medical and mental health care from a variety of providers, but a list of stumbling blocks – notably the lack of in-person appointments due to the COVID-19 pandemic – hampered his treatment.
Alexander, his mother told the court, began to suffer from insomnia, lack of appetite, headaches, chest pains and numbness in his arms over a six-month period before the killing of the infant.
On Dec. 6, 2020, she said Alexander was found crying hysterically, after which she asked him what was wrong.
“He said, ‘I feel really, really sad,” Gisella recalled.
Over the next month, the family tried to get Alexander mental health help. In early December, she scheduled an appointment, but her son declined to go. A family holiday trip to Chicago revealed more mental health issues, including Alexander revealing to an uncle he was hearing voices in his head telling him to do violent acts, his mother added.
Upon the family’s return to Fremont in early January, Gisella said she had Alexander do a telehealth phone assessment with a doctor, who prescribed anti-depression medications before instructing the family to take Alexander to the emergency room for urgent treatment.
But, he refused.
“(Alexander) said he didn’t feel safe (at the emergency room),” Gisella said of the Jan. 5 visit. “Alexander said, ‘I don’t feel safe here…I need to go home. He said people were going to hurt him.”
The night of the killing, Gisella said her son had been chastised by his father – Juan – for playing too many video games. He decided to go to sleep at 8:30 p.m., she added.
After Alexander was accused of stabbing the infant, Gisella recalled the moment her husband rushed the bleeding baby to her.
“When I saw my husband with the baby, I called the ambulance. We kept talking to Alexander, but he was not listening,” she said.
Following the testimony of all the witnesses, both the defense and prosecution offered closing statements.
O’Brien called the incident, “an unspeakable tragedy on multiple levels.”
“In my career as a prosecutor, I don’t think I’ve seen such an act against an innocent child. To see a spontaneous act of violence against a child…there aren’t many parallels in not only Nebraska, but other states,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think there is any dispute beyond a reasonable doubt that Alexander Hernandez committed the offenses charged. I think it is incumbent on this court at this juncture, given the statute, to make a determination that Mr. Hernandez did commit the offense and the finding that he is not responsible due to the reason of insanity.”
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